MANILA (UPDATED) - Abu Sayyaf leader Furuji Indama has been critically wounded in the ongoing military operations in Basilan, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said Tuesday.
Gazmin said a total of 24 bandits have been killed since clashes erupted in the outskirts of Tipo-Tipo town last Saturday.
Major Felimon Tan, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), said aside from Indama, top commander Rhadzmir Jannatul is also among the over 20 wounded Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, however, earlier announced that Indama was dead, and that the number of fatalities on the side of the Abu Sayyaf had risen to 25.
Padilla had said government forces were able to recover the bodies of the bandits, including that of Indama.
"Bente-singko na po na kalaban ang namatay sa lugar ng sagupaan. Yan po ay may mga pangalan," he said.
"Kasama po sa bente-singko na nakuha ng ating mga tropa ay si Furuji Indama. Dagdag po yan sa high-value target na si Mohammad Khattab," he added, pertaining to the Moroccan-based bomb expert who was also killed in the clashes.
Eighteen soldiers were killed and over 50 others were wounded in Saturday's 10-hour encounter with the Abu Sayyaf.
READ: Weather, wild terrain: Army on what went wrong in Basilan clash
The firefight came a day after retired Italian priest Rolando Del Torchio, who was held hostage for six months by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf group, was released Friday.
The Abu Sayyaf, established in the early 1990s with seed money from Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines.
Many smaller kidnapping groups have often taken their hostages to the thickly-forested island of Jolo to hand them over to the Abu Sayyaf who ransom them off for huge sums.
The Abu Sayyaf is believed to be currently holding nearly 20 other foreigners. Its leaders have in recent years pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group that controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.
According to the Wesmincom, a full-blown investigation will be conducted in connection with the deadly clashes.
Tan said the probe will determine if there were lapses on operational planning, and who should take full responsibility for the death of 18 soldiers of the 44th Infantry Batallion.
Gazmin also said the probe will look into reports that the operation was leaked to the Abu Sayyaf after the military coordinated with members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Tan said there has been no let-up in the ongoing military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf.
He believes the wounding of Indama and Jannatul, who were allegedly involved in a series of violent attacks that targeted civilians in the Zamboanga peninsula and the Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi areas in the past few years, will have a huge effect on the morale of Abu Sayyaf members. - Reports from Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News; RJ Rosalado, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; Henry Atuelan, dzMM; Agence France-Presse
READ: Timeline of the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines